Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border

( 11 )


            Luis Alberto Urrea's Across the Wire offers a compelling and unprecedented look at what life is like for those refugees living on the Mexican side of the border—a world that is only some twenty miles from San Diego, but that few have seen.  Urrea gives us a compassionate and candid account of his work as a member and "official translator" of a crew of relief workers that provided aid to the many refugees hidden ...

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Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border

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            Luis Alberto Urrea's Across the Wire offers a compelling and unprecedented look at what life is like for those refugees living on the Mexican side of the border—a world that is only some twenty miles from San Diego, but that few have seen.  Urrea gives us a compassionate and candid account of his work as a member and "official translator" of a crew of relief workers that provided aid to the many refugees hidden just behind the flashy tourist spots of Tijuana.  His account of the struggle of these people to survive amid abject poverty, unsanitary living conditions, and the legal and political chaos that reign in the Mexican borderlands explains without a doubt the reason so many are forced to make the dangerous and illegal journey "across the wire" into the United States.
            More than just an expose, Across the Wire is a tribute to the tenacity of a people who have learned to survive against the most impossible odds, and returns to these forgotten people their pride and their identity.  

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is a riveting, compassionate, and beautiful narrative.  I will never be able to forget this powerful book." -John Nichols, author of The Milagro Beanfield War

"The Borderland—the trouble zone between two countries, between two languages, the poverty which is the huge shadow of affluence, the place where you live when life is impossible, the time between boyhood and manhood when a young man does crazy things, the region where the saints and the outlaws are— all these borderlands are in Urrea's book of horrors and marvels, tenderness and rage."- Ursula K. Le Guin, author of The Left Hand of Darkness

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385425308
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/1993
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 375,019
  • Product dimensions: 5.23 (w) x 8.03 (h) x 0.44 (d)

Meet the Author

Luis Alberto Urrea was born in Tijuana to an American mother and a Mexican father.  He graduated from the University of California, San Diego, in 1977.  After working as a film extra, he joined a crew of relief workers helping the poor on the Mexican side of the border.  In 1982, he went to Massachusetts, where he taught Expository Writing at Harvard.  Currently, he lives in Boulder, Colorado.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2014



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  • Posted February 21, 2012

    Good Reading - You have to try this

    In “Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border”, Luis Alberto Urrea tells of his experiences as a missionary in Tijuana and other towns along the U.S.-Mexico border. Throughout his times spent in Mexico, Urrea witnesses a lot of poverty and the desperation that goes along with it. He tells the stories of numerous individuals and the fights they go through daily just for the things that many people waste and take for granted but the need for their survival. Through these tales, we are able to meet characters such as Negra, Jesusita, and Pacha, whose difficult lives were made easier through the kindness and compassion of the missionaries such as Urrea.
    I learned a lot from Across the Wire, especially about how the real Tijuana is and not just what the tourists see of the city. Many tourists and advertisements of the city only show the nice downtown malls and vacationer destinations. Urrea, in this book, was able to show the parts of Tijuana that are often hidden, the real events that go on there, as well as the stories of the unfortunate people that have to deal with the perilous circumstances of everyday life. I really liked how Urrea was able to mix the languages of English, Spanish, and the Spanglish border-speak. However, one thing about Across the Wire was that I did not like was how many of the stories that I found interesting were cut short, because I felt like a couple of the stories were fascinating and should have gone more in depth. One example of this is with the story of Negra; I was interested in hearing more of her life story from when she was young, yet the author ended it rather quickly.
    I would rate this book as a nine out of a ten and would recommend this book for the reading pleasures of most people. I think that this book would be really interesting for anyone interested in the topics of poverty, immigration, Mexico, and philanthropy, and believe that reading it would be an interesting and educational experience.

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  • Posted February 20, 2012

    Eye opener

    Immigration has and will continue to be a hot topic of debate in the United States. Most Americans only focus on the impacts that immigration has on their towns, economy, and country. However, immigration has two perspectives: the inside and the outside. Most Americans do not think of why people choose to immigrate illegally and even fewer come close enough to see first hand. Luis Alberto Urrea brings Americans to the border with his unique novel Across the Wire.

    In Across the Wire, Urrea gives an in-depth look at the lives of those living south of the American border. Urrea works as an official translator and gives his account of the people and actions that he witnesses in Tijuana, Mexico. Brining light to the question of, “Why risk your life and attempt to cross the border?”, Urrea gives an honest story behind the struggles that many people face everyday of their lives. From stories of people that form communities inside dumps to a story about his father, Across the Wire gives a truthful and hard picture of the hardships many experience in Mexico, knowing that a better life awaits not 20 miles away in San Diego.

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  • Posted February 20, 2012

    The honest truth of life "Across the Wire"--A must read

    Luis Alberto Urrea’s Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border provides a series of recollections and stories that took place throughout his life. The book takes place in Tijuana, Mexico. Urrea provides readers with a compassionate, blunt, and honest account of his work as a member of a relief crew that provided aid to refugees. He served as the official translator for the crew.
    Urrea’s novel is a series of memories depicting what life is really like in Tijuana. He explains that Tijuana is “Mexico’s cast-off child. She brings in money and gringos, but nobody would dare claim her.” This quote foreshadows many hardships that citizens of Tijuana will endure throughout their journeys. This book provides insight to those who question why people choose to illegally immigrate, and the hardships incurred from attempting to illegally immigrate and even to stay. Life is not what we would ever think of it as. People live in make shift homes in dumps. Reality is harsh, and Urrea does not refrain from exposing the truth. Urrea’s novel provides accounts of how hard people fought to survive and to what extent people had to go to, to fight for their families and their lives. The novel is an easy read, but can be quite vulgar in pointing out living standards, stereotypes, and much more. The book does shed light on a very important topic and is quite a worthwhile read.
    From this book I learned that people should not take anything for granted. I learned that I should really appreciate what I have and the opportunities that I have. I have a safe place to live, a nice bed, a supply of food that will never leave me pondering starvation, and clean water. I have freedom and education, and a strong sense of security. I have learned from this novel that it is important to spread one’s wealth to others, through simple deeds or just offering a helping hand.
    If you are looking for a compelling novel than Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border is definitely for you. This novel takes the reader on an adventure to see life for what it is on the Mexican front, and Urrea really nailed it. Urrea created a master-piece, and is definitely the one for the job as he grew up in Tijuana. The novel will give you the honest truth, so prepare yourself for a captivating ride.

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  • Posted February 20, 2012

    Interesting Read

    Luis Alberto Urrea's Across the Wire offers an unbiased and heart-wrenching view on the immense struggles that the people of Tijuana face as well as the horrors of immigration. Luis Alberto Urrea tells the story of many Tijuana residents who live in garbage dumps close to the Mexican-American border. These people live in deplorable conditions and many times are forced to try and cross the border in order to find a better life in America. Resorting to this illegal practice is extremely dangerous because anything and everything can and usually does go wrong.

    Luis travels with a missionary group led by Pastor Von, an extremely selfless and charismatic man who inspires everyone around him. Luis acts as a translator and thoroughly enjoys his work of providing food, supplies, and hope to the various inhabitants of Tijuana. Luis develops close bonds to many characters throughout the book, most notably children such as Andres, Laura Patricia, Sergio and especially Negra. These children all have different effects on the author and are a major part of what makes him enjoy the work he does. Seeing that he is able to make a huge difference in the lives of many people, especially these children, means the world to him and propels him forward to help as many others as he can.

    I enjoyed reading about the other side of immigration that most people don’t know about. I also liked how the book was divided up into separate vignettes, which made it much easier to read as well as certain sections more powerful. Overall this was a very interesting and at times shocking novel that I would recommend to others.

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  • Posted February 20, 2012

    Good Book

    Luis Alberto Urrea's first book, Across the Wire, gives readers an idea of what life is like for families on the Mexican side of the border. This moving and compelling group of stories gives readers a first-hand image of what the refugees go through in their day-to-day life. Urrea wrote this book in 1993 about the area within twenty miles of the U.S./Mexican border, a place where he did work to help those in poverty. Urrea uses different events, holidays, and times throughout his life to portray the horrible life that thousands of people have to go through in their life in that area.
    Urrea organizes his book in an effective manner, structuring the book into chapters that each talk of specific events that Mexicans go through. From the Pomplanada, the running of the bulls, to birthdays, Christmas, and other holidays that millions more people celebrate, Urrea uses these things to inform the reader of the horrible conditions and trials that these people have to go to.
    Urrea accomplished his goal of informing me of the hardships of the life on the other side of the Mexican border.I recommened the book because it gives readers a very detailed and passionate point of view from the other side of the border, a side that most Americans do not get to learn about.

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  • Posted February 20, 2012


    Across the Wire tells the tale of things that few have the courage to speak about. Across the Wire is a relatively short novel, with chapters varying in length. The novel has a nice style that uses each chapter as a different story. The writer opens up with a preface/prologue that sets down the groundwork for the reasoning behind the book and puts some disclaimers in there. It also tries to help the reader make the connection that things are worse than they seem. Urrea worked in a relief team as a member and translator in Tijuana where he was put at gun and knife point. The chapters that follow each tell their own story that Urrea witnessed. Some talk about a certain person or group of people he remembers. They also talk about the corrupt government and police force that Mexicans have to deal with. The final chapter kind of ties the whole story together. Urrea is forced to return to Tijuana where his efforts on the relief crew finally pay off and they are able to help an ‘old’ friend of his Negra (the girl from chapter 2).

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  • Posted February 20, 2012

    Decent story

    “Across The Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border” the book of stories by Luis Alberto Urrea. “Across the Wire” was named a notable book by The New York Times and given the “Christopher Award” which is presented to the producers, directors, and writers of books, motion pictures and television specials that “affirm the highest values of the human spirit”?
    The entire book is set in Tijuana where Luis Alberto Urrea was born. He describes Tijuana with lice, scabies and typhoid; his pictures of borderland misery are like a series of painful and shocking stories of the lives of Mexicans. Urrea was born to a Mexican father and an American mother, and raised in San Diego, Urrea spent much of his childhood in Tijuana but never saw real Tijuana until 1978-82, when he volunteered, under the direction of renegade missionary ``Paster Von,'' to bring food, clothing, and medicine to the poor people. He has made a myriad of visits since. After a brief look at the difficulty of ``undocumented workers'' crossing into the US, Urrea focuses on the families that remain on the Mexican side, working hard for a living from the border's comparative wealth.
    I feel as though it is inappropriate to admit that you “like” any part of this story unless discussing Urrea’s choice of writing language which to me was extremely descriptive and sometimes reveals more than it feels decent to know, but Urrea's recognition of unbroken humanity along with his accounts of kindness gives this dark journey into Tijuana its saving affection and hope. The parts of the story that spoke to me the most were when: The trash-picker who was from Michoacán, explains that ``At least here you have garbage!'' as if garbage was a luxury of any kind but to him it was food for him and his family. Another apart that spoke to me was when Urrea connects with a little girl barred from school because she's barefoot. Urrea states that he buys shoes for her; when they're stolen, she's expelled; her family disappears; ten years later, she lives in a chicken coop with her children, but her spirit and personality seem unbroken.
    This book was a collection of essays written about the very poor in Tijuana. The author does not leave out any lice, diarrhea, scabies, death or other tough situations encountered during his time working with the people of Tijuana. The book as a whole felt a little choppy and did not flow as well as it could. It was a lot to handle as a reading for class but I was able to get through it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2002

    Outstanding Story

    This was an assigned book for a Mexican-American class, I took at SDSU. I'm so glad I read this book, as a Latina woman, I recomed this book to everyone who want to be inspired to help others. This book will open your eyes and help you see how greatful and fortunate many of us are, but dont realize it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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